Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 22: The Church of San Pedro, el Viejo

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

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The origin story …

While reading about the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 39), I came across the above picture of a Republican Women’s Militia patrol, taken in Madrid while it was under siege by the right-wing forces of General Francisco Franco.

The women are obviously feeling the weight of their heavy carbines, but, despite that, one of them is smiling at the photographer. 

I have studied Spanish, lived in Andalucía for two years, and taught a summer course once in Madrid. I’d always wanted to write a song with a Spanish theme, and looking at this picture, I had the idea of constructing a fictional history for the smiling (anonymous) woman.

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An essential history lesson …

At the time of the siege, the Republican Spanish Government, expecting the city to fall at any moment, had evacuated to Valencia. 

On the 8th November, Nationalist forces led by General Mola attacked Madrid at the Casa de Campo – a park near the city’s university area. Among the attackers were the much-feared troops from Spanish Morocco – the Moros – who had the reputation of being absolutely merciless in battle.

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The Republicans, many of them badly-armed and inexperienced civilians, managed to hold them off until the arrival of the XI International Brigade – composed of a mixture of volunteers mainly from Germany, France, and Poland plus a company of British machine-gunners.

 

 

The attack stalled on November 19th, with the Nationalists in possession of part of the University City area, but unable to advance further. The city then settled into siege mode, with aerial bombing an integral part of the Nationalist strategy.

Despite the bombing, the popular cafés around the Plaza Mayor (Main Square), Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun), and Gran Vía (Main Street) stayed open and were filled with off-duty soldiers, artists & intellectuals, and war correspondents & photographers like Ernest Hemingway and Robert Capa.

The defiant madrileños held to their slogan: ¡No pasarán! – ‘They shall not pass!’

In January to February 1937, a major battle was fought at Jarama, east of Madrid, with no clear winner, and many casualties on both sides.

The siege was finally broken on 28th March 1939 when Franco’s troops marched into the exhausted city.

The Civil War ended in victory for Franco on 1st April 1939.  Subsequently, up to 200,000 people were executed or died during imprisonment by Franco’s regime between 1939 and 1943 – including many of the defenders of Madrid.

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Ch…ch…ch…changes …

Franco’s Falangist (Spanish Fascist) government controlled Spain until the death of franco.gifFranco on 20 November 1975 when a process of democratisation called the Transición began, with elections on 15th June 1977.

The Transición is said to have ended with the first peaceful transfer of executive power, after the victory of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) in the 1982 general election.

All in all, the Fascists – known by their Spanish enemies as fachas – had been in power in some parts of Spain for 39 years and in the whole country for 36 years.

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Putting it all together …

I imagined the militiawoman living through this. She would fight at the Casa de Campo. Later, she would take lovers – first, Paco,  killed at Jarama, then, after him, Juan, simply vanished, presumed dead, at the Fall of Madrid.

She would seek shelter with relatives who belonged to the Carlistas (supporters of an alternative monarchical line – rather like the  Jacobites in Britain, and supporters of Franco). Thus she would survive the post-surrender bloodbath.

Pregnant by her vanished lover, Juan, she would subsequently tell the child, and her grandchildren in turn,  all about the Spanish Revolution (when the Republican government moved sharply to the left after the generals rose up against it).

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Juan was an anarquista. Most Spanish anarchists were anti-religious, but she, although a Republican, continued to believe, and so would light candles in memory of her lovers, Paco and Juan, in her local chapel in the Church of Saint Peter, the Elder – or San Pedro, el Viejo in Spanish.

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candles.gifTo be honest, I had the idea of her lighting candles in a church, nothing specific, and so looked through a list of madrileño churches till I found one with the right number of syllables in its name. So the song’s title came about purely because of the space I had to fill in the last line of Verse 1! That’s the very church in the featured image right at the top of this article!

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The one thing I thought I had failed to do was to provide the song with an appropriately Hispanic melody. However, my subconscious must have been at work.

After the strings had been added, I suddenly realised that the emphases they brought out in the accompaniment were those of a tango – the sort of thing that might have been played in many of the numerous Madrid cafés during the siege.

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Lend an ear and an eye …

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The Church of San Pedro, el Viejo

© 2017 Bob Leslie

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Laying down the stresses … stress.gif

Each verse is divided into two sections of seven lines each. The first six lines of each section have 2 stresses each, while the seventh has 3.

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How’s the metre running? …

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Rhythmically, it’s mostly regular. The prevailing metre throughout the song is the dactyl (Dum-dah-dah), with some slight variations here and there (mainly short extra syllables squeezed into the same time-frame), e.g.

  • “| Days turned to | months and the | cit-y held | on. All the | caf-és were
    crow-ded in [de-]| spite of the |bombs. People | talked of the | world and how | it  just looked | on,  though the | shells  fell each | night  on Gran | -a … |”

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Lining up the rhymes …track.gif

Each section of the verses follows the end-rhyme pattern below:

  • A  B  C  B  D  B  E
  • “Campo” “bay”
    “courtiers” “away”
    “friends” “day”
    brigadistas

There is an ‘accidental’ B B rhyme – as opposed to the usual B  E, at the end of the first section of Verse 1

  • “ran” “pasarán

but, otherwise, the song is regular rhyme-wise all the way.

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Key points …

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Over all, the song is in G major, but the first section of the verse alternates between that and a variant we haven’t previously looked at: G harmonic major.

 

The harmonic major is a scale used mainly in jazz – but, obviously, I’m making an exception here!

It’s a major scale with the 6th note flattened. Thus G harmonic major goes like this:

  • G  A  B  C  D  Eb  F#  G

So chords that would differ from the normal G major would be 

  • A diminished instead of A minor
  • C minor instead of C major
  • Eb augmented instead of E minor

In this case, the only chord we’re using from that group is the C minor.

The second section of the verse is all in G major

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Is our musical cake well-baked? … cake.gif

Stressmetre, and rhyme are all pretty solidly structured, with only minor variations.

The song employs two very closely-related variants on G major that combine fairly easily.

The melody is well-varied, with two distinct sections that flow smoothly from one to the other.

The rhythm is that of an entirely-suitable slow tango.

And, although I say this myself, The Church of San Pedro, el Viejo has a powerful tale to tell.

That’ll do nicely (looks smug, and pulls muscle trying to pat self on the back)!

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Next time, we’ll burrow down through the strata of traditional song in search of a worthy survivor from a past age!

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

 

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